Knowing what to do next: Tips for better planning and prioritizing | Sharon Saline, Psy.D. | 7 Min Read

Does it ever seem like you and your kids have way too much to do, and every task looks equally important and daunting? Many people, especially those with ADHD, struggle to make realistic plans, figure out what the order of doing things should look like, and wrestle with how to get started. Sometimes folks can make a plan but there’s so much packed in that the only way to do it all is to multitask or give up. At other moments, there needs to be a crisis or the possibility that something unpleasant will occur if you don’t do the task right now. 

All of these scenarios lead to increased stress, frustration, and agitation. Everybody feels drained, exhausted, and overwhelmed. Planning and prioritizing are executive functions that are closely related to organization, time management, and initiation. The integrative nature of planning and prioritizing makes them higher-order cognitive skills that also depend on self-awareness. Nurturing metacognition — the ability to evaluate yourself and your actions — contributes directly to increasing these skills. 

To improve your child’s ability to prioritize, begin by assessing how your child or teen is able to think about themselves, their responsibilities, and their relationship to structure. This is a collaborative process: we want your student to reflect on their patterns in addition to whatever observations you can share. This fosters metacognitive awareness and offers key insights into their capacity and belief about planning. You will need this information to strengthen their capacity to set and work with deadlines and learn how to use a schedule for activities, homework, appointments, etc. 

Kids need direct instructions and examples for understanding how to use calendar tools (digital or paper) that honor their input and don’t feel punitive. Some students may refuse to use them and, in those situations, it’s worth discussing other options and how well those are actually working. Planning and prioritizing also depend on the ability to estimate how long something will take as well as develop effective systems for organizing materials, information, and belongings. Initiation, the ability to begin a task, plays an important role in this process too. You want to break something down into small enough, bite-sized chunks to get started on it. Use schedules, time estimates, organization, and initiation — these skills take time and practice to develop. For kids with ADHD, this process can be prolonged because these are the exact areas…

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Sharon Saline, Psy.D.

Sharon Saline, Psy.D. is a top expert in ADHD and neurodiversity. Dr. Saline specializes in an integrative approach to managing ADHD, anxiety, executive functioning skills, learning differences and mental health issues in neurodiverse and 2e children, teens, college-age adults and families. With over 25 years of clinical experience, she brings a positive, strength-based approach to improving the challenges related to attention, learning and behavior. As a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Northampton, MA, Dr. Saline helps people reduce frustration, develop daily living skills, communicate better and feel closer. An internationally sought-after lecturer, workshop facilitator, and educator/clinician trainer, she adeptly addresses topics ranging from making sense of ADHD and executive functioning skills to managing anxiety to understanding the teen brain. You may contact Dr. Sharon Saline at